Ever fired a matchlock? While I have handled them, no one has ever let me shoot one of these 16th century guns. For the next season of “American Rifleman Television” we are doing a four-part feature series on the development of firearms from the discovery of gunpowder to today. For that series, we borrowed a matchlock musket from Dale Shinn in California. A replica, it is an authentic copy of the kind of matchlocks used during the founding of the American colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth.
The simple cock or serpentine holds a piece of smoldering slow match in front of your face—thus the “match” part of matchlock. Know the punts you use on Halloween? Think of that held in the jaw of in front of your face. There is open pan of gunpowder right in front of your nose (later ones had a cover so your powder would not fall or blow out). There is no sear, when you pull the trigger, it simply draws the serpentine with the slow match back to the open pan of powder and, if all goes well, you can hold the match there long enough to ignite the priming charge of powder in the pan. If you let go of the trigger, the match goes forward out of contact with the pan. I must say drawing a burning piece of rope closer to your face with an open pan of powder in front of your nose takes a little getting used to.
We shot high speed footage for the show, and seeing as we had to clean it anyway, many of the staff shot it, including Assistant Editor Joe Kurtenbach. Look for it on the Outdoor Channel.